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August 25, 2011Blaine Irby was sitting in a tight ends meeting in December of 2009 as the guy who could no longer play football, still supporting his teammates as they prepared for the BCS national title game against Alabama.
Irby was the guy who couldn't even walk without assistance, when "the twitch" happened.
For more than a year, he'd been through hell, starting with the moment his right knee was bent completely backward after a hit from a Rice player who dove at his legs. There was the pain he saw in his mother's eyes after the injury. The tears flowed down both of their faces that night because they knew how serious the injury was.
LESS THAN 5 PERCENT CHANCE: Doctors would give Irby a less than 5 percent chance of ever walking normally because of all the nerve damage that occurred. Right after the injury, Texas football trainer Kenny Boyd feared Irby's leg might need to be amputated if the blood circulation couldn't be improved. Irby was rushed to the emergency room.
Over the course of the next year, there were three surgeries - one in Austin to completely reconstruct the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, and two more in Houston to cut away scar tissue in hopes of regenerating the nerves in his right leg.
"In our heart of hearts, we knew it was a low percentage," Boyd said.
There were countless hours in the training room and weight room, trying to get his right foot to work again, to flex again, to simply move again. For weeks and months it just dangled at the end of his leg like a dead fish at the end of a trot line.
Every night, before Irby would go to bed, he'd flex his left foot 100 times while attempting to flex his right foot - always envisioning his right foot would move. But it never did.
Until that tight ends meeting.
THE TWITCH: Irby saw his right foot flex a half inch while tight ends coach Bruce Chambers laid out the game plan for the BCS national title game. All Irby could think to do was raise his hand and ask Chambers if he could be excused to go to the bathroom, and then made a beeline for Boyd's office.
"You could finally see progress," Boyd said of Irby's arrival in his office. "But there's a long way to go from feeling a twitch to blocking a defensive end. We just wanted him to be able to walk normally again."
Added friend and teammate Blake Gideon, "He had this smile on his face, like he had some secret. Like a seventh grade kid."
NO LOSING FAITH: Irby wanted to play again. And even though there were down days, he never lost sight of his goal.
Irby said, "It's definitely a miracle. I think God had something to do with this. I know he did. He put me through this for a reason, and I wouldn't change anything. I believe 100 percent in my heart I'm ready."